Recently, a book about infant sleep was released telling parents that allowing their babies to cry it out was the right way to encourage healthy sleep patterns. This isn't a new occurrence. Books advocating cry it out are published often. This particular book though caught my attention because it included a tip about parents needing to be ready to change the sheets because children left to cry it out often get so upset they vomit all over themselves. When I read that excerpt I literally felt sick to my stomach. Who would leave their baby to cry so long and so hard that they vomited?
Oh, wait. I did that.
My sweet baby didn't deserve that.
But, once upon a time, I did it anyways.
Because I didn't know better. Because I was exhausted.
Because I didn't realize that I was causing her harm.
There is a reason our babies cry. Always. Sometimes it's a need for food or a clean bottom. Often it's a need for touch. A need for security. A need for warmth from another human being. We all need these things. As adults we have the skills to find ways to meet these needs. Babies don't. So they communicate with the people they trust to meet those needs, by crying. Sleep training "works." It will train a child not to communicate their needs. It will teach them not to trust. But it doesn't get rid of those needs. Studies have shown that babies remain in distress during times of unmet needs even if they aren't communicating them because they've been trained not to. The brain goes through enormous growth in the first year of life. Ignoring our babies needs changes that growth. We seem to want our babies to fit seamlessly into our lives. Nothing has to change because we are in charge of when they eat, sleep and play. When did we become too busy for babies?
We live in a society that pushes independence. One that tells us that if our children aren't independent by some arbitrary age they never will be. Science though, tells us this isn't so.
Writing for Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez says,
"The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994) Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns of distress get established, it's much harder to change them."
I didn't do that with my sweet Cianna. I was so tired at the beginning of my pregnancy with Rowen that for about two months right after she turned a year I let her cry herself to sleep. I'd get her in the morning and see sheets still stained with tears. I hadn't done this with Jameson. It went completely against my instincts. Everything in my being was telling me to get get her. But I was afraid she'd always need me. And I was so dang tired. She learned during that time that I couldn't be trusted to meet her needs. She became very defiant and withdrawn. I work everyday to undo the damage that I caused her. Parenting doesn't end when I get tired. Her needs didn't stop because I was tired. She is/was biologically wired to need to be close to me at night. I wish I knew then what I knew now. Some of the issues she deals with now might not exist. The great thing about parenting though is that every moment is a chance to make a new decision. I know better now. And I'm so grateful for the mama tribe I have that reminds me when things get tough.
I'm so grateful I have this opportunity to do hard things. To love my babies. To follow my instincts.
Stein, J. A., & Newcomb, M. D. (1994). Children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors and maternal health problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 19(5), 571-593.
As a woman you are powerful. Birth is of course only one of many amazing pieces of being female, but it is unique in some very key ways...it is a time in a woman's life that requires physical, spiritual and emotional strength. It tests the foundation of who we believe we are as women, and challenges our beliefs about our own power.--
Marcie Macari in She Births
This weekend I was privileged to attend a Mother Blessing for a sweet friend soon to become mama for a second time. A Mother Blessing is a beautiful ceremony that gave us the opportunity to express our love and encouragement for mama to be and her baby and her birth ahead.
We each brought a flower to be made into an arrangement for her to focus on while birthing. To remind her how much she and her family are loved. To remind her how much we all believed in her body and its capacity to give birth. We also brought a bead or charm that represented what we wanted for her from her birth.
I brought a sunflower. I used to grow sunflowers in Oklahoma. I'd stand at the kitchen window, my hands soapy from the dishes and watch them grow taller, waiting for the flower to finally unfold. It was kind of like birth. The height of pain of the contractions keep growing until finally you've put enough work in for the reward of the flower. The charm I chose for her was the infinity symbol. Birth is messy. Birth is unpredictable. I wanted to represent that no matter how her birth unfolded, at the end she'd have a new love that would never end.
The charms were used to string a bracelet for mama to wear during her birth if she wishes. So that with every glance at it she could remember the community of women standing behind her. Loving her. Believing in her. Supporting her not only in her birth but in all the days ahead of motherhood.
I wish I could describe the feeling in the room. So much love. It was such a throwback to the days of a different community than those we live in now. Days when mothers and grandmothers and daughters and sisters weren't usually separated by thousands of miles. Where birth is seen as a natural event. Not a disease that needs managing. Where we all care about one another's families. I didn't know this mama particularly well before the mother blessing. It doesn't matter though. She's part of my village. My group of people I turn to when I need help in this messy journey of parenting.
If you ever have the opportunity to have a Mothers Blessing for yourself or to throw one for a friend, I cannot recommend it enough. Baby showers are wonderful, but there is something so much deeper about this. Its so much more about the humans and less about the things. I think we could all use some of that in our lives.
So, congratulations soon to be mama of two. You will rock this, no doubt in my mind.
Since Rowen was around eight weeks old I've known something was "different" about her. She was a much less vigorous nurser than her sister and seemed to be startled incredibly easily. She was slower about meeting milestones while still technically being in the "normal" range. At 6 months her Moro reflex was still very much present. When she hit eight months and wasn't trying to crawl, I listened to my mama gut and had her evaluated by an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. They were impressed with many things about her; her ability to eat chunks of whole food at her age, bringing them to her mouth on her own with ease for one. But something was amiss. A sensory processing issue, they said. She qualifies for services, here is your list of rights and responsibilities. We'll be back in a week.
So like any parent I took to the internet. What could I find about this sensory processing disorder? A lot. A lot of conflicting information. A lot about its correlation to autism. Rowen has a sensory processing disorder but is not autistic. Most of what I found was reassuring. A list of things to look for. Trouble feeding. Trouble sleeping. Trouble riding in the car. Check, check, check. Wow. For an infant, those three events make up a significant part of the day. And a significant part of her day had been incredibly stressful. It can be difficult to bond with a baby who spends a majority of the time unhappy. Especially when you can't figure out what is wrong. Many nights I'd nurse her and rock her and walk with her for hours until Will came home and I finally had to hand her off because I couldn't take the constant crying anymore. We'd switch off and on the really bad nights. I was thankful to have an answer as to why life seemed to be so difficult for her.
Her first therapy session was a world of help for me. Maryse, her OT is from Canada and is just adorable. She walked in the house and immediately asked me what I had read about SPD on the internet. I'll never forget her saying, "I have tools that can help you help her not become so overwhelmed, your days will start getting better. They aren't all going to be easy, but they will be better." Sensory processing issues are best explained with a spectrum. We all have little quirks, sensory things that bother us. Some people can't stand to feel the tags on their shirts, or the feel of ankle socks. It often shows in texture issues with food. These quirks are on one end of the spectrum. For some though, sensory issues disrupt every day life. Some have incredibly intense reactions to everyday stimuli. This would be on the other end of the spectrum. Rowen appears to be somewhere in the middle. Uneven touch bothers Rowen. Support over one part of her back and not the whole thing is a huge trigger. Loud noises and fast movement she isn't expecting are also triggers. At her age stranger fear is not uncommon, but her reaction is incredibly intense. Because she becomes scared and overwhelmed quickly trying out new things like crawling becomes more difficult. She of course started crawling right after she was evaluated. Girl is already meeting goals.
We use tools like soft brushing of her skin and vibration to help distract her while she is going through sensory overload. The only consistency with a neurological issue like SPD is that it isn't consistent. The same exact stimuli doesn't always bother her. Riding in the car will probably never be her favorite thing. She may wean earlier than her sister because the constant touch while nursing isn't always enjoyable for her. Some days she absolutely loves to be worn on my back, some days she hates it.
Hearing that your child needs therapy can be a scary moment. What will her life look like? We all talk about how proud we are of our children when they develop typically and follow the pattern that all other children follow. What happens when they don't? How do we feel then? I've had several people tell me, "I'm so glad my baby doesn't/didn't have that." Ouch. We feel blessed beyond measure to be chosen to be Rowen's parents. Undeserving, even. I actually told Maryse that I felt bad that Rowen was born into this family. Not sad for us. But for her. She has two older siblings who embody the word rambunctous. Our home is always loud. Our home always has a lot of movement. No wonder she is stressed so much. Maryse though, said it was the perfect place for her. Perfect preparation for every day life stressors that will come her way, with the addition of a lot of love. And a mama who listened to her instincts when something was "off."